Jason Robinson, who turned 41 this year, is arguably one of the most recognised figures in Rugby World Cup history. Born in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and now a father of six, he has represented England in the Tournament twelve times, and coached several teams. He’s one of the stars of Coca-Cola’s ‘How To Win A Rugby World Cup’ film, and in this interview shares some of the highlights of his career, as well as who he’ll be watching during the Tournament.
How did you get into rugby?
I first got into rugby through a teacher who was very passionate about the sport.
Who helped you become a professional rugby player?
I joined an amateur rugby club, which allowed me to be seen by a scout and turn professional at the age of 17. There have been many who have supported me along the way, from providing transport to events to teaching me the skills of the game.
Who are your rugby heroes?
Ellery Hanley, who played Rugby League, and was so ahead of his time. He was powerful, quick and smart with an obvious passion for the physical side of the sport.
Where did you get the nickname Billy Whizz?
From a teacher at school and some of the ladies at the club. It’s after a cartoon character in the Beano comics who was known for his speed. I had really good feet, was quick and there wasn’t much of me!
Has Rugby Union changed since you started in 1996?
It has changed a lot over the years, especially when you consider what professionalism has done. But it’s not just about money, it’s about attitude, improving your nutrition, training, techniques, and an overall awareness of your wellbeing.
What’s a defining Rugby World Cup moment for you?
The iconic moment between Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela. When you see that you realise just how powerful sport is. I believe sport and rugby is for everyone, and that image encapsulates that and speaks volumes. Having been a young lad from a deprived area, rugby has given me some amazing opportunities in life.
Describe the moment England won Rugby World Cup 2003.
We’d practiced for that moment for many years, making sure that everyone stuck to the game plan, as it’s crucial that nobody goes off on a tangent. We got into a good position and only when Jonny Wilkinson thought he was in a good place and wanted the ball did it go back to him. At the time I remember thinking he’s the best person you’d want the ball to go back to in that situation, and then he kicked it over and scored us a victory.
What’s one of your favourite Rugby World Cup memories?
When that final whistle went and I looked around and Lawrence Dallaglio was standing there, and we hugged like two lovers! There was a great outpouring of emotion because we, as a team, had just won a Rugby World Cup. Finally all of our hard work had paid off, and it was the best feeling ever.
How does the current England squad compare to the team of 2003?
We’d already been together for a long time, and we had players like Martin Johnson and Dallaglio who had lots of experience. We went into the Tournament as a favourite, which very rarely happens as an England team. We may not be the favourites this year, but we certainly have the players to really push for it and bring the Webb Ellis Cup home.
Who’s the one to watch this year?
New Zealand has many strong players, such as Julian Savea. He has a really great pace, and he’s big like Jonah Lomu. Israel Folau for Australia is also one to watch. From the England side, George Ford, who was fantastic in the 6 Nations Tournament. He plays flat and he likes to attack the line, and kicks out to the corner.
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